By Sherrie Miller
Magnesium is a vital mineral for our health and wellbeing. It is the fourth most common mineral in our body after calcium, potassium and sodium, and the second most abundant electrolyte after potassium. A magnesium deficiency can cause cells to die and negatively affect over 300 metabolic processes such as muscle, bone, hormone and nerve function, protein synthesis, blood glucose control, cellular energy, DNA and RNA production. Magnesium deficiency is a common problem across the globe, and if left untreated will greatly impact metabolic, physical and mental health.
Here are 5 reasons why children need magnesium in their life:
1. Bone Growth and Strength.
Magnesium is crucial for bone strength and hard teeth. We are bombarded with the notion that calcium is the mineral we need for strong bones, but with approximately 52% of bone stores being magnesium, adequate magnesium in the diet is essential. Along with phosphorous and Vitamin D, magnesium assists with the proper absorption and metabolism of calcium. With growing bones in kids, calcium is certainly important, but magnesium is just as important.
2. Muscle Contractions.
You may have had someone tell you that when suffering a muscle cramp, you may be lacking in magnesium.
In your muscles, calcium binds to certain proteins that changes the shape of the proteins generating a contraction. Magnesium competes with calcium for these same binding proteins to help your muscles to relax.
If your body doesn’t have enough magnesium to compete with calcium, your muscles may contract too much, causing cramps or spasms. Magnesium may be particularly helpful for children’s growing pains.
3. Sleep Quality.
As parents, we all know how much we desire a child that sleeps soundly. For those parents who find getting their little ones to sleep a full night’s worth, magnesium may assist. Magnesium helps the mind and body to unwind and relax. Magnesium regulates melatonin production, the hormone that controls your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium can also bind to gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) receptors which can calm down nerve activity, potentially improving sleep.
4. Mental Health.
Depleted magnesium levels have been linked to mental conditions such as depression, nervousness, poor attention, aggression, fatigue and irritability. Magnesium is required for the manufacturing of many neurotransmitters. It acts like a ‘gatekeeper’ to glutamates, our excitatory neurotransmitter, to maintain calm. It’s also a cofactor in the production of serotonin, our mood neurotransmitter and dopamine, our reward and motivation neurotransmitter. Children who have conditions such as ADHD, autism and anxiety in most cases, have a magnesium deficiency.
5. Strong Immunity.
Kids pick up all sorts of nasty bugs. Some kids pick up a virus once or twice a year; other kids seem to be sick every second week. Their immune system is responsible for how well they tackle illness and a healthy immune system is not only essential to prevent illness, but to recover from an illness quickly. Magnesium increases the activity of the immune system because of its involvement in the formation of antibodies, as well as strengthening the cells that help to protect themselves from microbes, bacteria, and viruses. Magnesium also perform antiallergic and anti-inflammatory actions.
Recommended dietary intake of magnesium for children is:
- 1-3 years: 80 mg
- 4-8 years: 130 mg
- 9-13 years: 240 mg
- Teens 14-18 years: boys 410 mg and girls 360 mg
Magnesium is abundant in many foods but if the diet is poor and consists of consuming highly processed foods, or the soil in which plant foods are grown lacks the rich nutrients they require, this will contribute to magnesium deficiencies. Stress also depletes magnesium levels.
You can find magnesium in the following foods:
- Raw Cacao Powder
- Dark Leafy Greens
At times, taking a high-quality magnesium supplement is required where diet alone is not maintaining healthy magnesium levels. It’s best to speak with a qualified health practitioner about the right supplement for you or your child. Poor gut health may also be a contributing factor to low magnesium levels. An inflamed digestive tract or poor microbiome levels may be preventing proper absorption of nutrients. If gut health is of concern, then supplementation may not work due to the inability to properly absorb the nutrients. Ensure your gut health is stable before addressing magnesium, or any other nutrient deficiencies.
Signs of magnesium deficiency may include:
- Spasms or twitching muscles, muscle tension, leg cramps or growing pains
- Muscular weakness
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty sleeping
- ADHD-like symptoms
- Teeth grinding
- Irregular heartbeat
- Sensitivity to noise
It’s important to get your children to eat a wide variety of healthy whole foods for optimal nutrition and wellbeing.
Of course, this can be an ongoing challenge. Don’t give up! Keep introducing foods to your child. One day they may surprise you. Find ways to hide items in their food where you really struggle with their fussiness, and if a magnesium deficiency appears concerning to you, speak to a nutritional health practitioner about supplementation.
Sherrie Miller is a qualified Nutritionist with a special interest in gut health. She is passionate about the way in which our digestive health can influence our mental health, skin health and immunity. Sherrie takes the concept of ‘Food is Medicine’ very seriously.
You can find out more on instagram @sherriemillernutrition